I’ve long been of the opinion that the John Muir Trail represents the best that the Sierra Nevada has to offer when it comes to medium-distance hiking. That doesn’t mean it is the only trail that can provide great scenery, easy navigation, and a just-challenging-enough level of strenuousness. If you are looking for a JMT alternative that has no permit obstacles to overcome, and can be done in three or four days, look no further than an Ebbetts Pass to Highway 50 hike along the PCT.
In this three-part series I will try to give you all you need to know to tackle this mini-JMT. In part one I’ll relate the data you need to determine if this hike is right for you. Part two will be a photo-heavy trip report, and part three will describe possible campsites for each evening.
The hike is about 42 miles and climbs 6,200 feet (and descends 7,700). This is the Sierra Nevada, so don’t expect many long, flat stretches. Water, when I hiked it at the end of August after a less-than-average snow year, was plentiful, although I did make a mistake on day one assuming that the lake I intended to camp near had good water. For the first time ever hiking in the Sierra Nevada I found water I didn’t want to drink. More on that in part three.
Permitting couldn’t be simpler: at the parking area, just south of Highway 4, there is a kiosk with trail information and a supply of permit forms ready to be filled out. (If you have trouble finding the kiosk, look behind the restroom.) Fill out the form, leave a copy in the box provided, and be on your way. There are two ways to begin: either start at the trail right near where you found the permit forms and walk about 1/2 mile to Highway 4, or jump back in your vehicle and have someone drive you to the trailhead on the north side of Highway 4.
This touches on what is probably the one area where this hike is tougher than the JMT. There is public transportation to Happy Isles (and hitchhiking to Whitney Portal is easy). There is no public transportation of which I am aware on Highway 4; you are going to have to find a ride to the trailhead. No matter if you are coming from the west or the east, the road is narrow, winding, and two-lane (one-and-a-half lane?). Don’t be put off by the road, though. It is in great shape and is perfectly safe if you drive at a reasonable speed.
I strongly recommend you hike these 40-plus miles northbound. The last three miles (going north) were tough enough going down; if you were to start in the north, and do this climb first, it would be a beastly way to begin.
Going north, your hike will culminate near the Adventure Mountain Lake Tahoe snow resort. In fact, the driveway off of Highway 50 into the resort is a great rendezvous spot at the end of the hike.
In late August I saw lots of other hikers, but never too many. You’ll see day hikers near the beginning and ending trailheads, and where the PCT crosses Highway 88 at Carson Pass. I also met three PCTers who were hiking southbound. On day one I saw about dozen people, day two about half that, and even fewer on day 3. That means there was plenty of solitude.
I think most hikers would take between two-and-a-half and three-and-half days to complete this hike. I did it in three days without struggle, and I’m 63 years old. It is a beautiful walk; more on that in next week’s post.
Good hiking, Ray